[quote]If your customers cannot empathize with your company, service or product, then do not expect to see support when your company faces adversity.[/quote] By Steve Mnich The recent European taxicab protests against on-demand transportation companies like Uber, and its expansion into new markets, made global headlines after thousands of taxi drivers brought gridlock to millions of commuters. [caption id="attachment_2808" align="alignright" width="150"]Steve Mnich Steve Mnich[/caption] The protests, while constitutionally permitted, should serve as a very valuable — and costly — lesson. Companies and leaders must build organizations or platforms that champion its stakeholders, builds trust and establishes brand loyalty. For starters, inciting disorder by causing mass-traffic chaos is among the least effective ways to win the admiration and empathy of your constituents. If you need further proof, not only did the protest result in an estimated $211 million in lost revenue, but the on-demand car service reported a 850% week-over-week increase in app downloads. Despite mass taxi driver participation, the protests lacked one thing — consumer support. If there’s one thing that extinguishes the impact of a protest, it is a lack of support from the customers you serve. The question we have to ask is, why do these types of protests continually see such minimal support in their plea to prohibit on-demand car service businesses like Lyft, BlaBlaCar, Uber and Sidecar? The lack of support is both geographically and demographically agnostic. We glean two important lessons in fostering loyal and brand-centric customer communities that transcend across all industries: Empathy Empathy is not bought, but earned over time. By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Unfortunately, the taxi industry at large has committed minimal (if any at all) time, energy and resources into building trust with its customers (more on trust below). Thanks to a handful of startups, the taxi industry is tipping its toes in the on-demand mobile trend via taxi-hailing apps like Hailo, which provide a better user experience, and a smart starting point for the industry. If your customers cannot empathize with your company, service or product, then do not expect to see support when your company faces adversity, or loyalty when another, better product becomes available. Trust Consumers will ALWAYS support the organizations they trust over those they do not. Trust, however, is seldom built on fear or inconvenience or unkindness. Each of these attributes are closely associated with the taxicab industry at large, whereas ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft have not only built devout users, but have solidified loyalty. Loyalty is built on three pillars: 
  1. Reliability — Do I believe that your product or service will do what it says it will do, when I want it? This was Uber’s most significant differentiator from the traditional taxi experience, and the reason startups like Flywheel, Hailo, BlaBlaCar and Taxi Magic have gained traction.
  2. Quality — Do I receive the value or worth that I expect from your widget? Regardless of which ride-sharing service you use, the ride quality is most always better than a taxi.
  3. Friendliness — For service-based businesses, the human aspect is among the most important values. Ridesharing and on-demand services have transformed the riding experience into one of comfort and friendliness.
This brings us to the bigger point that brands (of any size, and any industry) must focus on the needs, behaviors and emotions of their customers. In short, remain maniacally focused on building an experience that your community will happily defend. Steve Mnich leads communications for Accel Partners, one of the world’s premier venture capital firms. Connect with him on Twitter at @SteveMnichAccel Partner is an investor in Hailo and BlaBlaCar. Photo Credit: David Holt